History and photography are great bedfellows, so, as I tend to do, on having taken a photograph of a familiar Liverpool building, I then wanted to know more about its history. This was the case with the former Venice Chambers on Lord Street, now home to the very popular Rococo café:
Often it is a process of confirming what I knew, or thought I knew, but it is always more rewarding uncovering history I had not previously come across. This was certainly the case this time. Already knowing the buildings connection with the famous Bear’s Paw Restaurant, this became a starting point. I would very soon be focusing on the fascinating Cobham family. The story that follows is one of family tradition, adventurous travels, social change, and business dealings, but let’s start at the beginning….way back in 1832:
A building that comes from a key trade in Liverpool, a building sadly in disrepair:
HISTORY: No.10-16 Victoria Street was built in 1888 as a railway goods depot for the London & North Western Railway, a reminder can just about still be seen on the façade today:
The original LNWR building was constructed to serve Exchange Station on Tithebarn Street (the first station was built in 1850 and a larger version constructed in 1886-8; this eventually closed in 1950).
The Victoria Street building was converted into the Fruit Exchange in 1923 by James B Hutchins, and opened on 14th January 1924. After its change of use the Fruit Exchange became the main trading point for fruit produce within the city, and dealt with the majority of fruit imports coming into Liverpool. Warehouses in the Mathew Street area behind were used to store the fruit sold at the exchange. Just twelve months later the exchange was extended, with the formal opening on 5th January 1925.
In the late C20 the lower ground floor was converted into separate public houses. In 2008 the building was designated Grade II Listed:
The Fruit Exchange is owned by Cloudbluff Properties, whose director, Robert McGorrin, has been hoping to secure a viable long-term future for it since 2009.
He says: “It’s a great building – the auction rooms are unbelievable. There is so much history attached to the place.”
Footnote: I am advised that the owners have been carrying out some work to preserve the structural integrity of the building. As for future usage the Grade II listing of the building limits the alterations that can be made. Options are being explored.
Update: 2022 – the printers that have for the last few years occupied the ground floor units have moved out. Unfortunately the Heaven Club have seen fit to plaster the façade with banners, causing more damage to the deteriorating stonework etc.
The Rialto was of course much more than a cinema, and the opening would also feature a ball in aid of the Lord Mayor’s Hospital Fund. Visitors could also take advantage of the Garden Café and Grill. The Liverpool Echo would describe the interior of the Rialto as ‘staggering’, and the opening was clearly a success –
Trying to move with the times, the Rialto presented its, and Merseysides, first 3-D colour presentation on 3rd August 1953, with Paramount’s “Sangaree” starring Arlene Dahl and Fernando Lamas
Enjoy the slides!
After a relatively short period of success the Rialto would close on 29th February 1964, with Doris Day in “The Thrill of it All”. Initially, as many, the building was turned over to Bingo, but the ballroom carried on until 17th July 1965. The building was eventually leased by Swainbanks Ltd in 1972, who converted it into commercial premises selling second-hand and antique furniture. It was as Swainbanks that the building would succumb to the Toxteth Riots in the summer of 1981 – a sad end for a fine building.
It is widely known that Charles Dickens, for one evening, enrolled as a Special Constable in Liverpool. This was one of various visits to the town, and the purpose on this occasion was to research for a piece titled ‘Poor Mercantile Jack’
The bridewell, or police station, Dickens was based in is often cited as the Argyle Street Bridewell, which now once again is a fine bar/restaurant. Being very close to the then bustling docks, it would indeed have been an ideal base from which to patrol.
In 2004 a plaque was indeed unveiled to mark the visit of Dickens:
However, I read a suggestion that in fact it was not the Argyle Street bridewell that Dickens was based at, and it was actually the one off Seel/Berry Street. This caught my attention and I thought I would do a little research. See the attached PDF for my conclusions
In 1955 the Liverpool Echo published a ten-week series of articles on Liverpool shipping, supported by some excellent illustrations. I have collated them here to make what is hopefully an interesting read: PDF
Reina del Pacifico
Royal Daffodil II
ALL CUTTINGS COPYRIGHT OF BRITISH NEWSPAPER ARCHIVES
TJs is one of those Liverpool institutions of which everyone has a memory and opinion. It has been an integral part of London Road life since 1912, and it will be a sad day for many when this is no longer the case. A scenario now on the horizon – Hughes House is to be demolished, and Audley House converted to residential.
Beit the ‘Dancing Waters’ Christmas grotto, first school uniforms, a first or Saturday job, or simply shopping, many will have a TJs tale to tell. The history of its founder, Thomas John Hughes, and the empire he developed is fascinating, and in one particular circumstance, tragic. Add to that the formidable sounding mum, Anne Hughes, and we have a great story.
How London Road and the ‘Fabric District’ will respond to the changes about to beset it will be interesting, and hopefully positive, certainly one to watch.
This has been another fascinating history to compile, and as ever has been heavily reliant upon an invaluable subscription to British Newspaper Archive from which, you will find many cuttings telling the story of TJs.
At this point I will class it as a work-in-progress and will be updating on an ongoing basis. Please do get in touch if you can add further information, or share your own memories of TJs.
In the aftermath of World War II, and in particular the devastating bombing that Merseyside had suffered, it is no surprise that people were treasuring more than ever that which had survived. Historic buildings in Liverpool in particular had been hard hit by the bombers that brought horror to the city in 1940-41. Subsequent decisions exacerbated the loss of some iconic structures. Post-war planning was now another threat to the built heritage of the city, and there was every possibility that further buildings would now be sacrificed in the name of modernising Liverpool. One of the key aims of the ‘Recording Merseyside’ project was to stimulate further the general publics, and decision makers, consciousness of our architectural surroundings, and its contribution to both our understanding of the past, and to continuity moving forward.
The exhibition, attended by just under 10,000 people, was hosted by The Bluecoat from Monday 8th October to 10th November 1945, and the Daily Post published reproductions of sixteen of the works exhibited. Thanks to the excellent resource now provided by British Newspaper Archive we can still read such articles, and I have taken the opportunity to collate them in a PDF file.
The ‘introduction’ in the PDF is from the Liverpool Daily Post of Wednesday 19th September 1945, and the individual pictures from publications running from 29th August 1945 – 5th November 1945. I have also added black & white versions of the illustrations.
Perhaps more so since than at the time, the demolition of Liverpool’s Revenue Building or 5th Custom House has sparked lots of debate over the years.
As an emotive topic it is perhaps understandable that ‘opinions’ have sometimes been used to replace ‘facts’ The following offers no opinion but simply provides the local reporting from 1946-48 for readers to enhance their knowledge of the circumstances that led to its demolition. PDF
First hit on 31st August 1940, it was on the nights of 3rd/4th May 1941 that the German bombers again hit the Custom House, fire bombs setting the building ablaze. The decision to demolish was first reported in October 1945.
‘Begrimed though it was the Liverpool Customs house was one of the finest and most impressive buildings the city possessed, second only to St. George’s Hall in its particular properties. The dignified Ionic porticos, the noble dome, and the amplitude of its symmetrical lay-out would have been notable in any company. In the service it ranked with the Customs houses in London and Dublin as a show place. When it was built, in 1828, John Foster, the city architect of his day, designed it to close the Castle Street vista at the South-end balancing it with the Town Hall at the other end. It was one of the most noteworthy buildings of its day, and attracted national attention. Its great size was an eloquent testimony to someone’s faith in the port as the provider of revenue for the Exchequer. The building was one of Liverpool’s first raid casualties, being damaged first on August 31, 1940, when bombs fell through the dome, which had to be dismantled. The building remained habitable until the May raids of the following year when it was hit on three successive nights, and since then it has not been occupied. Parts of it have already been pulled down, and there seems little doubt that the whole building will disappear before very long’
The neglect of the Steble Fountain and its immediate surroundings has a been a cause of annoyance and embarrassment for many, for quite some time. The former World Heritage site is one that would grace any city in Europe, and is one which Liverpool should treasure and care for, constantly.
Other than trying to keep the profile of the issues visible on social media, my own personal contribution has been to pop out occasionally with the litter picker and hopefully make a small, but fleeting, impact.
A specific issue is of course the fact the fountain has not worked for a number of years, certainly not for the first time, and the missed animation and attraction this robs both locals and visitors of.
Liverpool City Council and local councilors have been aware of the issues for many years, but it has taken the recent temporary fix for the Christmas Fair to bring the issue, or rather the benefit of resolving it, to a wider audience. The response from many has clearly illustrated what a welcome sight the return of cascading waters would be. The issues with the water-pump and the cost of replacing it are well documented, but in the context of others projects around the city seem less than restrictive. The same cannot be said about the short-sightedness of those in a position to get the fountain fixed.
The initial excitement caused by the sight of a ‘working’ fountain for the Christmas Fair recently has been of no surprise. Despite it being evident it was a temporary fix, with an external pump and plastic sheeting retaining the water, it has vividly illustrated what, and why, many of us have been calling for.
This short history is intended to both inform, and keep the lack of care for the fountain in the forefront of the minds of local decision makers. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope to supplement it further when time permits.
The impressive, but still sadly only part utilised, ‘Lewis’s Building’ on Ranelagh Street stands as a testimony to one of the city’s retail giants – Mr David Lewis.
The building continues to dominate the corner of Ranelagh/Renshaw Street, and ‘Dickie Lewis’ (or Liverpool Resurgent to give its full title) with his ‘uncompromising masculinity’ continues to raise glances and giggled conversations from tourists and locals alike. Although in most parts a relatively recent building, its history is entwined with that of the city since 1856.
“The ‘Ready Money Principle’ is the foundation. All goods are bought with, as well as sold for, ready money. The very smallest rate of profit is charged. The lowest price is marked upon each article in plain figures, from which no deviation is allowed.”
A fascinating book that has been invaluable in compiling this history – ‘Friends of the People – The Centenary History of Lewis’s’ – Asa Briggs. (1956 B. T. Batsford Ltd.)
1839 – David Levy arrives in Liverpool from London. Serves apprenticeship with Benjamin Hyam & Co., Lord St.
1856 – David Lewis (born David Levy) opens the first shop in his own name, at 44 Ranelagh Street. Gents and boys tailoring. This store would see continual expansion. Initially adds no.42, then nos.36-38, and then in 1877 no.40 which had been Jacob’s. Lewis would also marry Bertha Cohen in this year.
1859 – acquires No.54 Bold Street
1864 – expands into trading in women’s clothing at the Bold Street shop. Louis Cohen joins the firm, he would become a partner in 1871, and ultimately become head of the firm.
1867 – another advertising idea: The Lewis’s Pass Book (see advert in slide-show). Some 20million sold in the next ten years.
1878/79 – closes Bold Street shop, and buys out Bon Marché in Basnett Street. Paul de Jong, the Bold St, manager was instrumental in this.
1879 – adds Tobacco Department to Ranelagh St store.
1880 – another ‘advertising’ master-stroke; a re-issue of Gore’s Directory of 1790
1880 – the empire begins to expand: lease taken on 110 – 112 Market St., Manchester. Further expansions would follow in Birmingham, and Sheffield.
1882 – first issue of ‘Lewis’s Penny Readings’, again immensely popular. Again in 1888, and 1895.
1885 – 4th Dec, death of founder David Lewis. He is buried next to his wife Bertha (died Aug 1896) in Deane Road Cemetery, Kensington, Liverpool. His nephew Louis Cohen takes over the business. His untimely death at least meant he would not witness the disaster to soon follow……
1922 – the new Clothing Factory opens on Beach Road, Litherland
1923 – first introduction of own branded goods: ‘Standex’ and ‘Wilwer’
1924 – Lewis’s goes public. Harold Cohen becomes the first Chairman, a position he held until his death in 1936. Business model and practices begin to change.
Sometime between 1927 and 1938 the section of Lawton Street between Cropper Street and Renshaw Street was closed, and the store was expanded across.
1926 – W. Watson & Co are planning the Watson Building on Renshaw St.
1928 – Lewis’s Bank opened (In 1958 the bank was acquired by Martins, but was sold again to Lloyds in 1967)
1929 – expansion continues as ‘John Andersons’ Glasgow is acquired
1929 – The Watson Building opens – it may well have been built in conjunction with Lewis’s, with them taking the upper floors. Watson’s would leave the building in April 1939 (for Bold St).
1931 – In the year that the 75th Anniversary is celebrated, Lewis’s employ nearly 3,000 people in Liverpool, and a total of 9,385 nationally..
1932 – Leeds store opens.
1935 – Hanley store opens – take-over of McIlroy’s Stores
1936 – Leicester store opens
1936 – Lewis’s gain a share in S. Reece & Sons, Liverpool. Full control in 1938. Merseyside Dairies Ltd an off-shoot
1939 – Expansion into ‘Watson Building’ first week of June as Carpet Hall opens – 83rd Birthday Week. The building was at this point used mainly for admin staff.
1941 – 3rd May, the devastation of the Blitz all but destroys the store – only the Watson Building is relatively untouched. The sprinkler system is knocked out by the first bomb, and then oil incendiary bombs cause the greatest damage. Sadly many historical documents relating to Lewis’s are lost.
1941 – June, in a remarkable effort trading recommences
1945 – announcement that the store would be rebuilt
1947 – May, plans revealed
1948-56 – The bombed store is rebuilt in stages, architect Gerald de Courcy Fraser
1950 – February: the first part of the new store starts trading – part of the lower and ground floor at Central Station end. The whole of the ground floor was opened by the Christmas.
1950s – Paul McCartney of Beatles fame said to have worked at Lewis’s as a temp – John Lennon and Cynthia Powell would also meet under ‘Dickie Lewis’!
1951 – Selfridges, London acquired.
1955 – the second section of the rebuild is completed and opened for trading. The company now employs some 14,000 staff
1956 – Centenary Celebrations – Eve Lister cuts the Lewis’s birthday cake on 31st May. A Centenary Lunch is held at the Adelphi, with 140 employees representing the 16,000 then employed by the firm nationally.
1956 – 20th Nov, unveiling of the 18ft high ‘Liverpool Resurgent’ statue (Dickie Lewis), by Sir Jacob Epstein, is unveiled by F.J. Marquis, First Baron Woolton
1957 – Bristol store opens
1958 – the Ranelagh Street store is finally fully completed
1959 – a subway was created underneath Fairclough Street that linked Central Station with the basement of Lewis’s
1962 – Bon Marche sold to John Lewis
1964 – Blackpool store opens
1991 – company goes into administration – bought by Owen Owen.
2006 – plans for the £160million ‘Central Village’ are passed – new shopping and leisure venue including an Odeon cinema, restaurants, a boardwalk with water features and towers.
Merepark spent £3m developing 9-25 Bold Street, behind Central Station, as an entrance to the planned Central Village
“Department store, designed 1947, constructed late 1940s/early 1950s, by Gerald de Courcy Fraser, constructed by Fraser, Sons & Geary. Steel frame with Portland stone facades, brick to rear. Stripped Classical style. Statue and reliefs to main entrance by Sir Jacob Epstein. Replaced earlier store largely destroyed during WWII. Adjacent Watson Building incorporated into earlier store retains early C20 facade.”
2007 – the company goes into liquidation – taken over by Vergo Retail Ltd
2010 – Lewis’s finally closes its doors after some 154 years
An image from 1911 here that you can zoom into for great detail: A view looking south-west from the 5th floor of the extension to the Adelphi Hotel towards Lewis’ department story and Liverpool Central Station: